Traveling in Europe offers some incredible opportunities for fun and discovery. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of your journey that may be a cause for anxiety. Chief among these is often what to do in the event of an illness or injury.

This can be a concern as it represents a range of challenges. Firstly, as an Australian we’re used to having free access to emergency medical attention which you may not be certain you’ll have in other countries. Not to mention there are potential administrative and language barriers.

The good news is that these challenges are far from insurmountable. Let’s run through a few tips for dealing with medical situations while traveling and how to access medical treatment in the UK and Europe.

Before you leave

Good preparation is one of the most important tools for handling medical situations while traveling. When you are confident you have good resources at your disposal, this tends to minimise the sense of uncertainty and reduces the stress of the situation. Before you leave, it’s important to arrange a few key items.

Firstly, it’s worth taking a travel first aid kit with you. This should include the basics you’ll need in the event of minor injuries, such as band-aids, bandages, antibiotic ointment, paracetamol, anti-diarrhoea medicine and microporous tape. If you take regular medication, it can be wise to pack spares into your kit in case your primary supply becomes lost.

In the event that you experience medical issues requiring professional attention, it’s important to prepare your insurance. Australia has agreements with these European countries that covers the cost of emergency treatment: Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Just show your Medicare card and you can access cheap or free emergency care in these countries. However, this doesn’t always cover all situations, including the costs of repatriation, so arranging travel insurance must be a priority, too. Be sure to have physical copies of all these documents alongside digital versions.

It’s also wise to familiarise yourself with the locations of emergency treatment facilities in the areas you intend to visit. Importantly, research the emergency services telephone number for each country on your trip and store these in your phone.

Handling minor issues

Many of the illnesses and injuries you experience while abroad won’t require a hospital visit. However, it’s always wise to seek non-emergency medical attention if it’s an issue beyond the help of a first aid kit. Your first port of call should be a local pharmacy.

Pharmacists in the U.K. and most E.U. countries are qualified to give advice on over-the-counter treatments. They’re also usually able to instruct you about whether it’s necessary to seek specialist attention. While many professionals, particularly in larger cities, may speak English, it’s important not to assume this immediately. It can be wise to download a language translation application to your smartphone to help make any enquiries here. However, if you’re staying at a hotel, the staff will usually be able to point you in the direction of pharmacists with English-speaking staff. Make sure you have our UK & Europe SIM Card so you can access the internet in an emergency like this.

In some instances, you may need to see a doctor. This might involve a visit to the local general practitioner. However, a telemedical appointment may be appropriate and practical if you need a prescription refill or to discuss a relatively minor condition. This involves having a live video call with a medical professional and going through similar questions as you would in a doctor’s office. If you have a phone with a high-resolution camera, your doctor may be able to examine elements like rashes or abrasions and provide you with advice.

This type of appointment can cause less disruption to your trip and allows you to choose a doctor suited to your medical and linguistic needs. However, it’s important to check whether your travel health insurance covers this before proceeding.

Navigating more serious treatment

Unfortunately, more serious medical issues can occasionally arise and you’ll need to go to a doctor or hospital. It’s not unusual to experience symptoms of medical anxiety caused by fear surrounding certain types of treatment or the uncertainty of the situation. You may find it helpful to first take steps to overcome this anxiety. Connect with your family and friends to get a little extra emotional support. Utilise coping mechanisms, like meditation or deep breathing before attending appointments.

Nevertheless, you’ll likely find it reassuring that medical facilities and professionals are much the same throughout Europe as those you’ll interact with in Australia. There are high levels of expertise and you’ll receive empathetic care throughout. Much of Europe is still taking careful precautions regarding COVID-19, though, so be sure to bring an appropriate face mask with you to the hospital or clinic. 

Unless it’s an emergency, you’ll usually have an initial triage assessment and some paperwork will be handled. As such, you should take your insurance documents with you. In state-run facilities, you’re unlikely to be turned away if you don’t have these items, but it can make life easier for everyone if you do. 

In the majority of cases, you’ll receive the treatment you need from experienced staff and be discharged with instructions and any necessary prescriptions. However, in particularly serious situations or those requiring lengthy or expensive treatment, receiving care abroad may not be practical. Your attending doctors and possibly your medical insurance company may advise you that repatriation is necessary. This is not a common occurrence, but you should be prepared for the possibility you might have to cut your trip short.


It’s an unfortunate reality of travelling that you may occasionally experience an illness or injury. Before you leave for your trip, make certain you’ve prepared adequate insurance and necessary medications. For less serious issues, you may be able to seek advice from a pharmacy or utilise telemedical services. If you find you need to visit a hospital, take measures to manage any anxiety you feel but rest assured you’ll be taken care of by experienced and empathetic professionals. Navigating medical issues is never easy, but some preparation and consideration can smooth the path and allow you to continue enjoying your European adventure.

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